He Is What He Always Was
An anatomy of a tyrant's degeneracy
The term they came up with was Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS. We were all hyper-ventilating. Or they’d mock us as bots yelling “Orange Man Bad” in mindless unison. They minimized all the madness as “mean tweets.” They affected an ironic distance, telling us we were being trolled, or taking Trump “literally” rather than “seriously” — whatever the hell that meant. I remember the scoffs and eye-rolls as a handful of us predicted, from the very start, that Trump would never concede power if he lost re-election, and were told we had lost our marbles. He was never a real threat to democracy, they assured us. The word “tyrant” was absurd hyperbole. Calm down.
And it would be convenient if all these self-serving blandishments were true and we could now move on, and forget about it all. But they were never true. They were always cope. Trump was and remains the greatest threat to American democracy in the White House in its history. And we are now seeing more clearly what would have happened if Trump had won a second term, as the arc of his deranged psyche has evolved as it always does with a tyrant, into greater and greater extremes, deeper and deeper insanity.
Since 2020, Trump has embraced Q-Anon, intoning speeches to its creepy background music and amplifying its insane theories on Truth Social. Last week he invited a Pizzagate conspiracist and her cronies to Mar-A-Lago, telling the assembled throng: “You are incredible people, you are doing unbelievable work and we just appreciate you being here and we hope you’re going to be back.”
Two days before Thanksgiving, Trump hosted Kanye West for dinner at Mar-A-Lago, well after West’s descent into pathological Jew-hatred, alongside one of the most repellent far-right creatures ever to crawl from under a rock, Nick Fuentes. That same week, Trump trashed the Supreme Court Justices he and the Senate appointed:
The Supreme Court has lost its honor, prestige, and standing, & has become nothing more than a political body, with our Country paying the price. They refused to even look at the Election Hoax of 2020. Shame on them!
We now know that Trump tried to target his enemies with tax investigations; claimed to have sent the FBI to “stop the election [of DeSantis] from being stolen”; considered bombing Mexico; declared that he will almost certainly pardon the goons of January 6; and demonized the appointment of a new special counsel. He declared that Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, “has a DEATH WISH. Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!” He has routinely deployed anti-Semitic and anti-Asian tropes — even weirdly against Glenn Youngkin.
And, en passant, the former president has also called for the termination of the Constitution:
A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.
This statement didn’t make the front-pages of the WaPo or NYT the following day.
In Trump’s speech announcing his candidacy for 2024, he pledged to send the military into the cities to enforce law and order — “and if they don’t want our help, we’re going to insist that they take our help”; he promised a new system of justice in which accused drug kingpins would be tried, convicted and executed the same day; and he backed the death penalty for all drug-dealing charges, however minor. These are, to put it bluntly, fascist measures which would require the termination of the Constitution to enforce.
And, with a handful of exceptions, the Republican leadership has been incapable of taking on this fascism. If Trump had been re-elected, they would be even more quiescent. Their reaction to his call to terminate the Constitution was laughable in its cowardice. (The invaluable Will Saletan has a summary of their pathetic gestures here.) The only thing that has in any way damaged Trump has been the sanity and wisdom of some moderate Republican voters, most crucially in Georgia, who used the elections of 2020 and 2022 to vote against Trumpists, while still supporting other saner candidates.
Did the system survive? Yes, it did. Would it have survived Trump’s re-election? I truly don’t think it would have — and the arc of Trump’s tyrant syndrome suggests some kind of constitutional and civil breakdown if he’d held on, as he intended.
None of this is new to you or me. I am writing it because we simply cannot become inured to this, even now, even when the threat seems at bay, as Trump licks his electoral wounds, and as some in the party begin to sober up. There are times when a judgment of character matters in politics. And those of us who judged Trump as mentally unstable, dangerous, delusional, fascistic and tyrannical were dead right.
It’s in the interests of Republicans to bury this record of iniquity — to move on as if it were all some kind of surreal dream. It’s in the interests of Democrats and some Never Trumpers to argue that Trump is merely a symptom of a degenerate GOP and added nothing uniquely dangerous, which is why DeSantis is no different.
It’s in the interest of the republic that we do neither; that we face up to the indelible stain this one hideous man, and one man alone, placed on America’s democratic order, however degenerate his party was to elevate him; that we recognize the unique nature of the threat; and remain vigilant against it. The threat is not over. And it gets darker by the day.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my long take on how the left fails to scrutinize its fringes; a conversation with Alyssa Rosenberg on cinema and children’s books; reader dissents over Chappelle, the cultural shifts stemming from immigration, etc.; eight notable quotes from the week in news; 17 pieces on Substack that we enjoyed; a psychedelic music video for our Mental Health Break; a wintry scene from Quebec, and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge from a non-wintry place. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
How Does A Movement Protect Itself?
One of the challenges of any social movement rooted in the concept of liberation is knowing when liberation ends and extremism, grifting, and hoaxing begins. This is especially true, it seems to me, of what was once the gay rights movement. Naturally ebullient, free thinking, and tolerant of pushing boundaries, it can easily be captured by extremes. Its instinct for toleration can be abused. It took a conscious effort to distance the movement from some of its early founders’ Communist sympathies; it took another to anathematize those seeking to sexualize minors, to rid the movement of even the suspicion of Foucaultian NAMBLA evil.
(Read the whole 800-word piece here, for paid subscribers.)
New On The Dishcast: Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa writes about mass culture, parenting and gender for the Washington Post’s “Opinions” section. Previously she was the culture editor at ThinkProgress, the TV columnist at Women and Hollywood, a columnist for the XX Factor at Slate, and a correspondent for The Atlantic. We have a long chat about entertainment, primarily cinema and kid books — a nice change of pace for the Dishcast.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find three clips of our convo — on whether social justice should be a centerpiece of children’s books, how to get kids hooked on books again, and our takes on the incredible film Tár. That link also takes you to commentary on last week’s episode on plagues, as well as reader reflections on a changing England and the US when it comes to immigration. Here’s a clip from last week:
Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy.
Dissents Of The Week
A reader responds to my column on a changing England:
Quick question, that your column invites: How does the behavior of London’s immigrant population differ from its British population in ways that make you feel or sense that you have “lost” your father’s country? I ask with the best of intentions.
By way of background, I was a university student in London in 1980-81 and returned for the first time over Christmas in 2019. I was both amazed and charmed: amazed at London’s cosmopolitanism and diversity; charmed by the fact that it remained a very British city. That doesn’t seem to be your perspective. You seem to imply that London is less British than it was 40 years ago because it is less white. I didn’t sense that. What am I missing that you seem to feel or to intuit?
Actually, I share my reader’s perspective:
London is far more dynamic, diverse, and prosperous than it was in my childhood. I love much of it too — I’d much rather live in the London of 2021 than 1971 — and feel pride in my native land’s capacity to be so inclusive.
But I do not begrudge the sentiments of those who believe this has all happened too rapidly for their comfort. Read more dissents here. And please keep the criticism coming: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting more than a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers topics such as lab leak, CRT reaching British schools, and the “Twitter Files.” Below is one example, followed by a few new Substackers:
Why are bonobos so damn chill?
Greil Marcus, the legendary rock critic, is now on Substack. So is royal watcher Elizabeth Holmes, just in time for the new season of The Crown. Substack also just launched a feature that streamlines back-and-forth debate. Huzzah!
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.
See you next Friday.